A recent online survey suggests there is strong public support for a privately funded science centre in Bowen Park.
The six-week survey captured 740 responses, with the overwhelming majority – 96 per cent – providing positive feedback on the project.
The Nanaimo Science and Sustainability Society (NS3), a non-profit organization, ran 34 free Science in the Park dates over the summer, reaching more than 3,000 children and 200 families.
Liz DeMattia, executive director of NS3, said the Science in the Park program not only provided children with a positive, educational experience in the summer months, but also increased park use at Deverill, Pawson, Mansfield and Harewood parks by as much as double on the days the program was active.
“There were days we had over 120 kids at Science in the Park days, which indicates people were coming to the park specifically for the educational content of the program,” said DeMattia, a biology professor at Vancouver Island University.
The initial plans for the Bowen Park facility mirror other successful science centres in Vancouver, Kamloops and Vernon.
Eighty-three per cent of survey respondents said they also believed that Bowen Park was a good location to have a year-round building capable of teaching natural sciences to students.
The positive feedback now means NS3 can approach city council with a request to lease a portion of Bowen Park to build a science centre.
“The Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission has recommended council give approval for us to proceed in working through a long-term lease agreement with the science folk as far as having a science centre at Bowen Park goes,” said Suzanne Samborski, senior manager for the parks, recreation and culture department, adding that both capital and operating funds need to be in place by NS3.
The issue is expected to go before city council Nov. 19. Should council move it forward, the project would still have to endure a feasibility study, traffic study and an alternative approval process.
“There will be plenty more opportunity for the community to share its thoughts on it,” said Samborski.
Over the past 12 months NS3 has hosted visioning sessions, design charettes and development workshops to help shape the proposal.
At an open house in early September, members of the public did raise some concerns over issues like tree removal, effects on the disc golf course and general aesthetics should the centre be built.
“That can all be addressed in the design phase,” said DeMattia.
The goal of the dedicated science centre is to provide an interactive experience where kids can dig in the mud and explore nature and then have a warm, dry place to examine the samples they’ve collected under a microscope to learn more about biology.